What is Bwiti ?
Bwiti is spiritual practice of West Africa that has existed for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. It is one of the three recognized religions of Gabon and Cameroon, Africa and utilizes the root bark of the iboga shrub as a rite of passage into adulthood and to promote spiritual growth and healing. Modern Bwiti incorporates animism and ancestor worship into a synergistic belief system. Bwiti spiritual principles are focused on the cycles of birth, life and death as well as the recognition of male and female energies and the balance between them. Bwiti colors are red, white and black. The red and white represent the feminine and masculine. Bwitists believe that iboga gives them the ability to journey between worlds, see truth and receive knowledge from the ancestors. The consumption of iboga can produces visions and provide insights into ones life and experiences.
Bwiti ceremonies are led by a spiritual leader called N’ganga, a man or woman with knowledge of these traditional sacred practices. Initiates to Bwiti are those who have consumed sufficient iboga root bark in a ceremony led by a N’ganga. These initiates are called Banzis. Modern practitioners, particularly in the West, may use small amounts of root bark in combination with ibogaine, a concentrated extract of iboga.
Few ibogaine treatment centers include the ceremony and tradition surrounding this powerful psychoactive plant medicine. At New Life Iboga Costa Rica we incorporate Bwiti traditions into our iboga retreat and believe the ceremonies are an essential part of experiencing the sacred plant . Practiced for thousands of years, Bwiti rituals give thanks and gratitude to the ancestors and ask for permission and safe passage for new initiates. There are multiple ceremonies leading up to a ‘flood dose’(a large dose of iboga/ibogaine). An estimated 300,000 Bwiti followers exist worldwide with most followers in Gabon, Africa. A small number exist in Europe and the Americas.
For full Bwiti initiations, please visit our family at Ebando in Libreville, Gabon.
Bwiti music utilized two main instruments, the Ngombi and the Mougongo. Bwiti music is used to help aid in the transition from one world to the next during ceremonies. Other instruments such as drums, rattles and other shakers are also used during ceremonies.
The ngombi is an 8 string harp that is played in repetitive patterns to help create a trance like state and aid in the journey during initiation ceremonies. Played by an older male initiate the harp servers as both a string and percussion instrument and it is regarded as an instrument of divine communication between the living and the dead. The harp is the female element of bwiti music and is represented by the sculpted head of Disumba, the first ancestor, on the harp.
The mougongo is a mouth harp made of carved bent wood with a string that is played with a small stick while the mouth changes the sound that is produced. The mougongo is the male element of bwiti music.
Words and Terms
A common word used for many reasons and heard often. It is used to give encouragement, to say ‘good job’, to say ‘good to hear’, to say ‘thanks’, to say ‘amen’ etc.
Bwiti communities rely upon the wisdom of nganga or n’ganga, the term for the traditional holder of supranatural powers of healing and clairvoyance. While any Bwiti practitioner could have the ability to penetrate to unseen worlds and to regain the knowledge of the land above, n’ganga are experts at seeing through to hidden things, and they also possess self-transformative power. Chief dancers in night-long rituals are also n’ganga, and act as guides, leading men from this life to the next.
Candidates of initiation into Bwiti are known as Banzis. Prior to initiation the N’Ganga asks the ancestors for permission and safe passage of the banzi. There are days of ceremony in order to prepare the banzi for their journey. After participating in these ceremonies the banzi is given what is known as a ‘flood dose’. The flood dose is also what provides the banzi with profound insights into their life, behaviors and patterns. It opens the door to make the necessary changes in their life.